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When I worked as an undergraduate computer consultant for Syracuse University's Academic Computing Services from 1986-1990, it was taken as given that most of the foreign computer science, physics, and engineering students attending the university were doing so on the behalf of their government. That sentiment was especially true for our perceptions of the Chinese and Indian students in the labs.
Was this belief based on a stereotype? Yes, but not a cruel one. It would, to my mind, be a serious insult to assert a foreign national was unwilling to help his or her home country advance technologically. For those who would ask those individuals to rise up against their government or flee, remember Tiananmen Square and that emigrating from a repressive country to a democratic country with strict immigration quotas, such as the United States, is not a viable option for the students in question. Fear is a factor, particularly when help from the U.S. would not be forthcoming.
Bill Gertz, a noted national security journalist for the conservative Washington Times, argues in The China Threat that the Clinton Administration has ignored the danger that Chinese intelligence gathering poses to U.S. national security, particularly regarding nuclear weapons technology. While some of his more inflammatory rhetoric against the Clinton Administration seems gratuitous, the documentation supporting his claims that the current government has covered up Chinese intelligence operations against U.S. national labs and other targets is convincing.
Gertz's proof, an extensive collection of classified documents and personal interviews with key individuals in the Department of Energy and elsewhere, indicates that China has successfully appropriated U.S. nuclear secrets that allowed China to build a version of the W-88, a small U.S. nuclear warhead that can be used to turn single-warhead ballistic missiles into much more dangerous delivery vehicles with multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV) technology. While the theft of the W-88 technology took place during the Reagan Administration, the author argues that the collection efforts to correct implementation problems Chinese scientists encountered have been ongoing. Piling the theft of the W-88 onto Clinton's plate is disingenuous and adds to the reader's awareness that Gertz has a broader, "conservative" agenda, but his contention that the Administration is aware of ongoing collection efforts seems irrefutable.
The grand strategy scenario Gertz presents is one where the United States wants to prevent a Sino-Indian rapprochement, a perceived threat on the order of a Sino-Soviet rapprochement in the 1970s or 1980s, and China wants to acquire assets (such as ports at either end of the Panama Canal) that can be used to deny U.S. commercial and military mobility. Gertz also points out the perils of the Clinton Administration's "One China" policy, which attempts to keep Taiwan at arm's length from Beijing without angering the Chinese government. Chinese military leaders have been quoted making near-threats against the U.S. if the U.S. were to intervene in a Chinese-Taiwanese armed conflict, a duty imposed on the U.S. by the Taiwan Relations Act. In addition to being a democratic nation, the island of Taiwan occupies a strategic location astride important shipping lanes, offering China a potential chokepoint for restricting naval traffic from the Pacific to the Mediterranean.
Setting aside the vitriol, The China Threat is an excellent examination of how the People's Republic continues to mine U.S. scientific institutions for valuable strategic technologies. The Cold War is over, but we must still pay attention to the threat posed by a nation that thinks in terms of Fifty Year Strategies, not Five Year Plans.
Curtis D. Frye (email@example.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA. He is a freelance writer, researcher, and conference attendee; he is also a member of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.